Striking a Balance in Milan

Executives at fashion houses hope the spring 2004 season finally brings light to what has been three dark, gloomy years.

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On the other hand, Prada is taking a different route. “We’re not lowering our prices for spring. Rather, we’ve introduced a number of articles within a reduced price range while maintaining our high standard of quality and materials,” said Patrizio Bertelli, Prada Group’s chief.

Cases in point are mélange hemp flip- flops that retail for $92 and a shopper-style tote that goes for $253.

Nevertheless, a few swords of Damocles continue to hang over the industry:

  • Still-depressed strategic markets, like Germany and Japan.

  • Slow exports because of the bullish euro against the dollar and the yen.

  • Consumers shifting their priorities about where to spend their money.

“Today, being in fashion is the way you live, not only what you’re wearing. People spend their money in many other ways,” said Enrico Mambelli, chief executive at Ferré.

Sure enough, as designers work into the wee hours to fix a hem here and a tuck there for some catwalk drama, pre-spring orders reveal that buyers favored sexy little dresses, fashioned with simple fabrics but jazzed up with a carnival of prints, embroideries decorations and embellishments, along with rocker-style denim-and-leather combinations.

Specific bestsellers show Miuccia Prada is working with innovative colors on flimsy silks; Stefano Gabbana and Domenico Dolce are embroidering silk blazers and slipping them over second-skin jeans; Giorgio Armani mixes striped T-shirts with vests in technical fabrics; Donatella Versace is using parachute silk for gathered skirts paired with canvas and silk blazers, and Roberto Cavalli opts for teeny bikini tops paired with embroidered jeans and brief biker jackets.

In general, companies are forging their strategies based on the fact that the booming Nineties and turn of the 21st century — and the streams of disposable cash that came with them — are long logged into fashion’s history book.

Vittorio Missoni, marketing director and sales manager at his family’s 50-year-old company, believes it’s important to stay grounded and deal with an ever-changing fashion scenario.

“Today, we have to work harder to achieve what we want because major events change the course of life and people’s habits. You can’t just assume that things stay the same, but an optimistic reaction is key,” said Missoni.
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